A.J. Price has known Shaun Livingston since the two were seniors in high school and they shared co-MVP honors at the 2004 EA Sports Roundball Classic in Chicago. Price set a record with 15 assists and Livingston had 12 points and seven rebounds in the game.
Their paths have been far from smooth since then. Both players have overcome several obstacles during the past eight years — Price, a brain hemorrhage and two serious knee injuries; Livingston, a career-threatening knee injury — and they now find themselves as teammates once again in Washington. Price has known Livingston since Livingston wore a huge Afro, had blazing speed and his playmaking ability was compared to Jason Kidd.
“He was all-world before his knee injury, to be honest with you,” Price said, referencing the gruesome injury in which Livingston dislocated his left kneecap and tore three ligaments in February 2007. “He’s a good point guard. Not one of those guys they try to turn into a point guard. He’s really a point guard and I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time.”
The lanky, 6-foot-7 Livingston is no longer an explosive athlete capable of providing the spectacular, but the Wizards are only asking him to be steady in his second stint with the team that helped save his career three seasons ago.
“He gives us a guy that knows how to play. Good basketball IQ. He’s got a good feel,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I think he can help us.”
The last time Livingston joined the Wizards, they were desperate for some backcourt help and recovering from the Gilbert Arenas gun incident. Livingston, who went fourth overall to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004, was just three years removed from his debilitating injury and just looking for a chance to get some consistent minutes, which he could never get in previous stops at Miami and Oklahoma City.
Then-coach Flip Saunders, with few other options, let Livingston loose and he responded with some of the most productive stretches of his career.
“I was kind of at the turning point in my career with my knee. I was dealing with the struggles of trying to make the transition back on the court consistently and not a game here, then sit a game,” said Livingston, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 assists in 26 games, including 18 starts. “Flip really gave me the chance the opportunity to play consistent minutes. My knee kind of responded well, thank God, and I got a chance to get some confidence in me. Kind of reform my game.”
Being in Washington also helps him reunite with a former teammate with the Clippers in Sam Cassell, who tutored him and ran him through drills before games and after practices.
“He’s been a great mentor for me,” Livingston said. “He played the point guard position, very vocal with his leadership as well. Kind of instilling those same qualities in me.”
The Wizards considered bringing back Livingston but those plans changed when the team drafted John Wall first overall. Livingston signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with Charlotte that summer. He has since been traded to Milwaukee and traded to Houston, which waived him on Oct. 29 since only $1 million of his $3.5 million salary was guaranteed.
Wittman pushed for the Wizards to sign him when he became available.
“It didn’t work out there,” Livingston said of Houston, “but I wish them well and now I’m here. It’s an opportunity to play. Just got to get my legs back, get my wind up and I’ll be all right.”
Livingston attracted interest from other teams while training in Florida the past two weeks, but said he chose the Wizards because he would have more of a chance to play within a familiar system. The coaching staff has several holdovers from his previous stint, and Cartier Martin is only player on the team who was on the roster when he last played in Washington.
“Shaun is very talented,” Martin said. “He can handle the ball. He’ll allow us to put a bigger guard on a point guard to kind of scramble up the other team’s offense. He also knows the game. He’s been in a lot of different places and he knows the game well.”
Livingston joins a winless team that has struggled with Wall and Nene both injured. Once again, Livingston can assist the Wizards with his size, court vision and playmaking ability.
“I can fit it well just being versatile, also being a natural point guard just to kind of help guys with direction,” Livingston said. “This is my ninth year. I’m only 27 but still I’ve had a lot of experience just playing with different teams, different coaches, different players. Hopefully, I can help just with that experience on the court.”
The locker room and roster have changed considerably since he was last in Washington, but he was able to get his desired No. 14 — the number he wore with the Clippers and in high school, when he first came across Price.
“Shaun is a great player,” Price said. “I’ve been playing against him for a while now. He’s very good. He’s only going to help the team, in my opinion. He’ll give us what we need. I’m not sure how we’ll use him minutes-wise, but a little competition brings out the best in everybody.”